PAOPAO, Moorea, Tahiti - If you dream about a place for, oh, 40 years it can be disappointing when you finally get there. So I deliberately kept my expectations to a minimum as I planned my trip to Tahiti.
I didn't need to curb my enthusiasm. So far, this place is as magical as I expected. Moorea has towering mountains that plunge to the sea; giant spires with basalt fingers that pierce the sky; stunningly clear waters teeming with jackfish and manta rays and striped yellow and black angel fish, and, of course, enough palm trees to fill any picture frame.
Wonderful, wonderful stuff. But as much as the scenery is spectacular, I adore the people. Can't say I've been all around the world, but I've been enough places to think it's hard to a Tahitian for friendliness.
I was up and at 'em early on Sunday, heading from the Manava Suites (not Maneva, as I wrote in a sleepy state on Sunday) on the island of Tahiti to a boat bound for Moorea, just 12 miles away. My driver, Ruth, who didn't want to pass along her last name, was carrying on about all sorts of wonderful Tahitian customs.
"The boat ride to Moorea is five minutes," she told me as pulled away from the hotel. "Sorry, I mean 25 minutes."
"It's too early for me," she said by way of explanation, it being 8 a.m. "People shouldn't work so early," she said. Then she paused and laughed. "They shouldn't have to work at all."
Ruth listened to me talk about my love for ancient Polynesian canoes and drove me around for 20 minutes trying to find one that had been christened the day before. When we couldn't find it, she insisted on taking me to the market as I had at least 10 minutes to walk around before catching my ferry.
A great lady.
When I got to Club Bali Hai in Moorea (more on that later in the travel section), I went across the street and looked into renting a moped for an island tour. Jay Carlisle at Club Bali Hai was aghast at the idea of my facing Moorea's drivers, and the woman at Albert Rent a Car thought maybe a dune buggy would be better.
"You can try ours but we only ones with big engines and they're expensive. Europcar has smaller ones. Call them and you'll save a lot of money."
Yeah, can you imagine a rental car agency at Pearson suggesting a tourist try the counter down the hall? I didn't think so.
As it turned out, it was too muchh of a hassle to get the buggy so I've got a Ford Fiesta and plan to bomb around the island today, then check into the Pearl Resort for some snorkeling and a nice meal. Pretty tough, I know.
FERRY TO MOOREA
The ferry boat ride over was a blast. Hot as blazes in the sun but you get lovely views back at Tahiti and over to Moorea, which many observers say is the loveliest island in the Tahiti group.
It's lkinda ike the Pitons in St. Lucia multiplied by a dozen. There's somewhat similar scenery on the north shore of Kauai but not with hotels that offer such close-up views of the cliffs and jagged shards of mountain all clad in deep green.
This being French Polynesia, the food counter on the boat offered up jambon sandwiches on fresh baguettes. They also sell fresh baguettes at the Mobil gas station across the street from Club Bali Hai.
Great pineapple juice, too, of course. I'm sipping one now in a tall, froster glass as I type my entry for the day at a hotel down the road from the Bali Hai, which doesn't have Internet but has some overwater bungalows, a terrific staff and a great spot for breakfast and lunch called the Blue Pineapple.
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